South Africa to Test Out the Four-Day Work Week

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Could the five-day work week be becoming outdated? In November, South Africa will join several countries to trial a pilot four-day work week.

4 Day Week Global and the 4 Day Week SA Coalition linked up to form the initiative and have invited South African companies that are interested to take part in the pilot.

The news is exciting to many, carrying a possibility of a future change to the current work schedule, which would mean more freedom and personal time. However, amid the excitement, many are asking the question: is South Africa ready for a four-day week?

What it would mean to have a four-day work week

How it works

The idea of the four-day work week is that it focuses on workers’ output as the most important thing for the company, rather than how many hours employees work a week.

A four-day week would mean employees would have one less day of work as well as fewer total hours in the week, but get the same compensation and benefits. It is not the same as a compressed work week, in which employees have one less day of work but still have to work to make up the day missed in order to fulfill the usual 40 hours that a five-day work week consists of. In this case, employees work less days, but the days are longer.

However, with the four-day work week, employees would work the same number of hours each day as before, with no deduction on salaries.

The benefits…

For workers

Having one less day of work a week sounds good to every employee for obvious reasons, but there are many benefits to a shorter week.

For one, those who commute to work will save on living expenses, lowering the cost of living. This is a significant benefit with a lot of relevance now, as the world battles inflation and many countries with a cost of living crisis.

What’s more, less commuting also means some environmental benefits – with individuals using less fuel to get to work in personal vehicles, cabs, and Ubers each week, there’ll be a little less carbon dioxide being emitted.

Everyone will have more time to tend to personal and family matters and chores, have more free time to relax and pursue their hobbies, spend time with their children, and more.

In short, a four-day work week provides for a better work-life balance, which has a host of benefits. It would improve the mental and physical state and emotional well-being of employees, contributing to motivation and boosting work output.

For employers

Having driven, high-performing employees would also be beneficial to employers due to the productivity and high quality of work that could result from employees working one day less each week.

Employee engagement going up also means that there would likely be higher rates of job satisfaction and improved retention in companies.

The improvement in staff well-being may also result in employees taking fewer sick leave days.

As well as this, a four-day week is a cost-saver for companies; having people in the office fewer days every week means less usage of facilities, electricity, office supplies, and so on, lessening the amount businesses have to spend on them, as well as lowering companies’ carbon footprints.

The downsides of introducing a four-day work week

1. Less availability of services = lower customer satisfaction

For certain organisations that provide important, necessary services, such as banks, Home Affairs offices, and more, cutting down the days they operate could be both inconvenient to the public, and bad for the organisations due to the resulting low customer satisfaction.

However, organisations can combat this problem to an extent and keep customer satisfaction high by taking advantage of AI technology like help chatbots, so that people can still access their services on off days.

2. It is impossible or impractical for certain industries to move to a four-day week

Some industries require there to be employees available or on standby 24/7, or at least for more than four days a week in order for the industries to keep operating or providing their services. Take emergency medical services, airlines, manufacturing, and more.

For organisations in such industries, a four-day week is not feasible.

3. Challenges with scheduling 

A four-day week for employees would mean organisations would have to schedule each employees’ off days, which could arise in conflicting schedules or difficulties in getting enough coverage on certain days in order to keep service continuity.

This could be an extra stress to employers and employees alike.

Is South Africa ready for a four-day week?

A master reward specialist with SARA (the South African Reward Association), Kirk Kruger, does not think SA is there yet. However, he says South African employers must decide if a four-day model would work for their organisation, and then know how to bring it about in the best way possible so that it is beneficial to both employers and the company.

Kruger says, “I don’t think South Africa as a country or an economy is ready for this on a large scale, and interested employers will want to test the waters before committing.”

Who will most likely adopt it?

The four-day week transition would be best-suited to and most effective for small and medium-sized businesses, particularly tech companies, as they are able to operate on a more flexible basis.

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